Let Children Run Around in Class

Following the publication of an article in Telegraph, mischievously titled, ‘Let Children Run Around in Class, Headteachers Told’, I was intrigued – but not entirely surprised – by the online comments made by the readers. Needless to say, most of the comments about using physically active learning (PAL) were negative to say the least:

  • “Who will pay the damages and compensation when one of the little darlings gets hurt running around a full classroom? Stupid idea.”
  • “How stupid. I suppose the next advice will be to let employees run round the office?”
  • “What an utterly stupid idea. How is it that when kids sat in regimented rows of desks 50 years ago, there was hardly any obesity?”
  • “What happened to school breaks in the playground and PT lessons? This man is an idiot, thank god he has no influence over my child’s education.”
  • “This man is insane. One of the most important lessons we’ve discovered about learning in recent years is that our working memories have very limited capacity, and that you can’t do two things at once. In other words, multitasking is a myth. At best, we can switch rapidly from one task to another, and then only when each task involves familiar problems.”

My Response

Why an earth would you want children to run around in classrooms? Well, the short answer is that you wouldn’t, it is far too dangerous and would lead to absolute chaos. Yet that was not the focus of the motion at the NAHT and the Telegraph has taken the proposal out of context.

I am a researcher into physical activity and behaviour science; specifically specialising in physical activity and education in children and young people. I would urge people, before throwing stones, to review the evidence.

  1. Children who have a higher level of physical fitness and are more physically active do better in maths, reading and overall academic scores. To find out more, click here.
  2. Physically active learning – which seamlessly combines movement and learning – does not have a detrimental impact on academic performance, and in many cases has shown to improve academic performance.
  3. Longer term studies, where children have learnt in active ways have shown four months of additional learning gains in maths and spelling compared to those who learn while sat down. To find out more, click here.
  4. There is growing evidence that movement, when it is combined with learning facts information, can enhance the recall of such information when tested three-to-seven days after the event.  

Finally, in response to the statement that children should just sit down and concentrate, I replied that “after being physically active, children have a greater focus on the task in hand. For evidence of this, please see this article in the British Medical Journal – Sport and Exercise Medicine that summarises the evidence on acute effects of physically active learning.”

“For those who notice, yes, I wrote the article. To confirm, I have no product to sell or book to publish. I am merely interested in helping children achieve their potential, as is Mr Llewellyn. If you would like to know more or continue the conversation, you can follow me on twitter @brainercise. The question for me is how much PAL is right and how do we help teachers integrate it within the learning experience. Lots of exciting work is currently taking place on this. The outcomes of which will help your children achieve their potential.”


Since this article was written, I have had email conversations with the journalist. I will update you should there be a more balanced article published. Watch this space…

About the Author

Andy Daly-Smith is a Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University. Beginning working life as a Sport Scientist, he soon realised that changing people’s lives through physical activity was more important than improving the performance of a few. At LBU, Andy leads a research unit focussed on understanding the impact, implementation and feasibility of physically active learning in schools. For a link to Andy’s work, read the blog post by Rich Allman here.

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